Cholesterol-lowering claims on garlic called false and misleading

WASHINGTON - Based on new information from the United States, England, and Germany, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is advising consumers that garlic supplements have little lasting effect on lowering cholesterol and that many ads for those supplements are false and misleading.

     “Many supplement manufacturers claim that garlic supplements lower blood cholesterol or ‘maintain’ healthy cholesterol levels,” said David Schardt, a CSPI nutritionist. “But a new, scientific review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that the evidence that garlic lowers cholesterol is inconclusive.” The AHRQ review is expected to be released Friday, September 30.

     AHRQ evaluated 36 randomized trials that tested the effect of garlic on blood cholesterol levels. Small reductions occurred when participants took garlic for one to three months, but not when they took it for six months or longer. AHRQ concluded that whether garlic’s “effects are sustainable beyond three months is unclear.”

     “Since it is the prolonged elevation of blood cholesterol levels that promotes cardiovascular disease, a product that doesn’t work beyond three months is virtually useless for controlling cholesterol levels,” said Schardt, who was a member of the AHRQ advisory panel. He also wrote an article on garlic and cholesterol in the October issue of CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter.

     “Another blow to garlic’s reputation comes from the German Commission E Monographs, the international ‘Bible’ of the herbal industry worldwide, which no longer lists cholesterol-lowering as a benefit of garlic supplementation,” added Schardt.

     Additionally, a just-published review by alternative-medicine experts at the University of Exeter in England concludes that “garlic use is not an efficient way to decrease total serum cholesterol level.” Those researchers found that the six best-designed and best-executed studies of garlic supplements failed to show any effect on cholesterol levels.

     Some of the garlic supplements that make label claims about cholesterol are Kwai Dietary Supplement (“Clinically Proven To Support Cardiovascular Health & Lower Cholesterol”), Kwai Heart Fit Garlic (“Proven To Lower Cholesterol and Maintain A Healthy Heart and Circulatory System”), One A Day Cholesterol Health Dietary Supplement (“Helps Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels”), and Nature Made Herbs Garlic Supplement (“May Help Reduce Cholesterol”).

     On the Internet, Centrum Herbals advertises that its garlic tablets “maintain healthy cholesterol.” Kwai has run 30-second TV ads claiming: “The Garlic Supplement Proven To Lower Cholesterol.” Pure-Gar Garlic Capsules recently asserted in a magazine ad that “If you’re trying to lower cholesterol or blood pressure, take seven to eight Pure-Gar caps a day.”

     AHRQ noted that while garlic has little long-term effect on cholesterol, preliminary studies suggest that garlic might help prevent heart attacks by reducing blood clotting. The agency called for additional research.